Taranaki - the place is like no other and feels like my second home with both sides of my family coming from this region. It's a dream location for landscape photography in NZ with Mount Taranaki dominating the landscape everywhere you go and incredible coastal locations with amazing rock structures and offshore islands like Paritutu and Back Beach in New Plymouth as well as Tongaporutu (The Three Sisters) and its ever changing coastline further up the coast. Here are my favourite locations:
Firstly there’s the mountain, the show-stopping centrepiece of the region and definitely the jewel in the crown. Although blink and you may miss it with so many days when it is under a cloak of cloud. But when you can see it, the mountain is a sight that dominates the whole region and can be seen from almost anywhere within a few hundred kilometre radius.
All roads lead to the mountain, well it does seem that way at times with many roads leading up to the national park boundary providing perfect leading lines towards the towering peak. You can even drive right round the mountain in a couple of hours getting a range of different views as the mountain's shape changes quite significantly depending on whether you are north, south, east or west.
The lake provides a beautiful foreground to the mountain backdrop and on a still morning you may even be lucky enough to get a reflection of the mountain in the calm waters - that is if the swans gliding through your shot don't ruin the moment. On my last visit here, there was an incredible purple hue prior to sunrise and a little bit of mist floating in the forest around Lake Mangamahoe which made for a magical start to the day.
There’s also the Cape Egmont lighthouse out west which makes a captivating foreground if you can manage to catch a shot of it when the mountain is in view. I have visited this location on several occasions, but it wasn't until my fourth(!) visit in about four years that I actually managed to get a great shot combining the two. Talk about an exercise in patience and persistence. On that particular evening there were spring calves bouncing around in the paddock in front of us which made an entertaining evening amidst the landscape photography.
This location has grown hugely in popularity in recent years, and most of the classic shots you'll see on Instagram of Mount Taranaki these days are taken from this spot, high in the Pouakai ranges. The tarn itself is actually much smaller than it looks in photos, and getting a low angle here is key to making the reflection across the lake a perfect mirror. I was fortunate enough to get some glorious conditions here for sunrise back in November 2017, and one of the shots I captured from that morning was one of three finalists in the Landscape Category of the Sony Alpha Australia & NZ awards for 2018.
The hike to the tarn is not for the faint of heart, if you're of average fitness like I am and carrying overnight gear, then you'll find yourself huffing and puffing up the staircases and ridge-line for about 2.5 hours before reaching the tarn. You can stay at the Pouakai Hut which is about 20 minutes before the tarn, but be warned the hut can be ridiculously busy, and once I had to sleep straight on the wooden floor in a sleeping bag after arriving too late for a bed - not the best sleep I've ever had. The views the next morning were worth every bit of discomfort though!
Back Beach & Paritutu
This little gem is tucked down behind Paritutu, the famous rock that juts out of the landscape down near the port in New Plymouth. Paritutu is part of a small volcanic ring known as the Sugarloaf islands, and some of the smaller islands provide a great subject at sunset when the sun goes down behind them. Unfortunately the City Council has recently removed the staircase down to the beach, so as fun as it is scooting down the ridiculously steep black sand dunes to the beach, you won't be quite as excited when you have to make your way back up it, one step forward and two steps back! I've caught some amazing sunsets at this beach, but you'll want to factor the tides into a visit here, at high tide there won't be much beach to capture at all, so mid-to-low tide is much better.
If you're feeling adventurous you can drag you and your gear up Paritutu but this is one heck of a short and steep climb of about 20 minutes, with rope chains required near the top to pull yourself up so don't underestimate the right footwear to make it to the top. You'll have great 360 degree views over the city and hopefully the mountain if it's out so it's a great reward for your efforts.
The shipwreck is a bit of a hidden gem in Taranaki, down a road off the beaten track which leads to the beach around the coast from New Plymouth. At high tide you can get a great long exposure shot here with the swirling waves creating a misty look to the scene. At low tide, the shipwreck is high and dry and you can almost walk right out to it. Both provide a great landscape photography subject and on a clear day you'll also be able to capture Paritutu in the distance as well.
Lake Rotomanu & Te Rewa Rewa Bridge
It's quite surprising to find a lake right next to the sea, but Lake Rotomanu is just that. The jetty here is generally quite a good spot for sunrise, and if that fails then you've got the famous Te Rewa Rewa whale bone shaped bridge with its perfectly angled design providing a view directly through to the mountain. On a clear day, its quite spectacular!
No trip to Taranaki would be complete without a wander round Pukekura Park, and if you visit during the summer, you absolutely CAN'T miss the Festival of the Lights - Taranaki's best free annual event. Even though it's man-made, I'm rather partial to the wee waterfall in the park which lights up with different colours on a timed sequence.
If you're after a REAL waterfall, then you need look no further than Dawson Falls on the south side of the mountain. This waterfall (together with the Wilkies Pools loop track) is a great asset to the region, and I love the fact you can get right up close to this waterfall, if you dare. It's a short sharp walk down to the falls, but I love the plunging aspect of these falls, and the views towards the falls from downstream are my favourite angle to shoot from.
Tongaporutu - The Three Sisters & Elephant Rock
An hour up the coast from New Plymouth lies the incredible coastline of Tongaporutu. Accessible only within two hours of low tide, it's a 20 minute walk along the river mouth to get to the rock formations along this constantly changing stretch of beach. In the few years I've been shooting here, Elephant Rock has gone (succumbed to the sea in December 2015) and the Sisters are always changing in number as they erode and new columns form and break away from the cliffs. On a good day you can even catch a glimpse of Mount Taranaki in shot in the distance.
The sand here is forever changing too - sometimes you'll visit and it will be smooth and perfect for reflections and others it'll be like rock pools that you have to hop from one to the other avoiding wet feet. And be warned, the tide here does have a tendency to rush in, so you'll have to keep your wits about you and definitely don't leave it too long before making the journey back down the river mouth. Despite the challenge of catching the right tide, I love shooting here as it's one of the fastest changing coastlines in the world, and one that is fascinating to capture in all its changes.
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